It’s that time of year again when you have to analyze anything you hear or see (as if you shouldn’t always do that) because it could just be a prank or a joke.
But where did it all start this fooling of people on April First?
Some historians speculate that April Fools’ Day dates back to 1582, when France switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar, as called for by the Council of Trent in 1563. In the Julian Calendar, as in the Hindu calendar, the new year began with the spring equinox around April 1.
People who were slow to get the news or failed to recognize that the start of the new year had moved to January 1 and continued to celebrate it during the last week of March through April 1 became the butt of jokes and hoaxes and were called “April fools.” These pranks included having paper fish placed on their backs and being referred to as “poisson d’avril” (April fish), said to symbolize a young, easily caught fish and a gullible person.
In 1686, John Aubrey referred to the celebration as “Fooles holy day”, the first British reference. On 1 April 1698, several people were tricked into going to the Tower of London to “see the Lions washed”.
Although no biblical scholar or historian is known to have mentioned a relationship, some have expressed the belief that the origins of April Fools’ Day may go back to the Genesis flood narrative. In a 1908 edition of Harper’s Weekly cartoonist Bertha R. McDonald wrote:
Authorities gravely back with it to the time of Noah and the ark. The London Public Advertiser of March 13, 1769, printed: “The mistake of Noah sending the dove out of the ark before the water had abated, on the first day of April, and to perpetuate the memory of this deliverance it was thought proper, whoever forgot so remarkable a circumstance, to punish them by sending them upon some sleeveless errand similar to that ineffectual message upon which the bird was sent by the patriarch”
In modern times, people have gone to great lengths to create elaborate April Fools’ Day hoaxes. Newspapers, radio and TV stations and websites have participated in the April 1 tradition of reporting outrageous fictional claims that have fooled their audiences.
The BBC television programme Panorama ran a hoax in 1957, purporting to show the Swiss harvesting spaghetti from trees. They claimed that the despised pest, the spaghetti weevil, had been eradicated. A large number of people contacted the BBC wanting to know how to cultivate their spaghetti trees. It was, in fact, partially filmed in St Albans. The editor of Panorama at the time, Michael Peacock, approved the idea, which was pitched by freelance camera operator Charles de Jaeger. Peacock told the BBC in 2014 that he gave de Jaeger a budget of £100. Peacock said the respected Panorama anchorman Richard Dimbleby knew they were using his authoritativeness to make the joke work. He said Dimbleby loved the idea and went at it with relish. Decades later CNN called this broadcast “the biggest hoax that any reputable news establishment ever pulled”.
In 2021 Volkswagen USA announced they were rebranding to Voltswagen. This prank backfired because the prank was believed and it pushed up the share price, prompting an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
In 1969, the public broadcaster NTS in the Netherlands announced that inspectors with remote scanners would drive the streets to detect people who had not paid their radio/TV tax The only way to prevent detection was to wrap the TV/radio in aluminium foil. The next day all supermarkets were sold out of their aluminium foil, and a surge of TV/radio taxes was being paid.
The German newspaper Berliner Tageblatt reported in 1905 that thieves had tunnelled beneath the U.S. Federal Treasury and stolen all its silver and gold.
Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk has released a rap song. Briefly stepping away from his work in space exploration and pioneering transport systems, the American released a track called “RIP Harambe” – a reference to the Cincinnati Zoo gorilla which was shot after a small boy fell into its enclosure in 2016. Although this had all the hallmarks of an April Fools’ day prank, it wasn’t. Elon Musk did record RIP Harambe.